Using the Old Grey Matter

Henrietta in watercolour.
Henrietta in watercolour.

I’ve been dreaming about vectors, textures and clip art lately. Histograms, layers and grunge brushes are all I can think about!

‘Why?’ I hear you ask…..well…..because I have recently signed with Painted Planet Licensing Group. They work with artists to help develop their art into designs that can be used on products. So I need to learn how to use Photoshop.

A couple of months ago Jan Draheim from Painted Planet stumbled across my work on Etsy and contacted me via email. I worked with Jan years ago to produce a painting instruction book and when she found me on Etsy she wondered if I was the same person……yep it’s me! One of the questions she asked me when we Skyped was ‘Do you have any experience using Photoshop?’ Hmmm….. umm no….not really.

So, over the last few weeks I have immersed myself in all things digital. I bought a book called ‘The Photoshop Bible’ and I have spent hours on YouTube watching tutorials. I have been Skyping regularly with Jackie Decker a talented artist who is also represented by Painted Planet. Jackie has been very helpful giving me lots of advice and helpful links.

As a result of all this I now have a new addiction. Instead of using my paints and brushes I have spent entire days playing on Photoshop.

I played around with my painting of Henrietta above and I came up with two designs that I didn’t mind.

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I put her on a wooden background here and I painted some chicken wire to add some interest. At first I used the magnetic lasso tool to select my artwork and paste it on the background but I found a better way to do that by using layer masks and brush tools. It’s not great but I was pleased with my efforts at this early stage.

I did another one the same but I added my little baby chicken.

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I thought I would see what she looked like on a chalkboard so I painted a chalkboard background on the back of a cereal box. I used black and grey gouache and some pastel. I scanned it and opened it in Photoshop and it looked pretty much like a grungy old chalkboard. I found some fonts that are ok to use commercially and I bought some chalkboard motifs from a shop I found on Etsy. The checked border at the bottom is a pattern I made using a hand painted red watercolour square.

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I know they’re not masterpieces, but hey, I still have my L plates on.

I also took my Lily painting below and turned it into something that resembles a design for a serviette. I flipped the lilies, erased the hummer and added the borders. Note to self…….always remember that the border must go on the bottom and right side of the serviette (thanks Jackie)!

Hummingbird with lilies Louise De Masi

 

Lily serviette by Louise Demasi

 

They say we need to stimulate our brains and learn something new each day to help prevent dementia.  I think I’ll be ok as long as I keep learning to use Picshop……Photoplay……. you know what I mean.  :/

 

Twisted Sisters

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Back pain and I have been old friends for about a decade or so. Most people suffer from back pain throughout their lives so there are no surprises there. However, surprises have a way of sneaking up on you and in June this year I was given the biggest surprise of my life.

Over the past twelve months or so my back pain worsened. I found that I could no longer walk for long without getting strong pain around my pelvis and shooting pains down my legs. We moved house in June this year and all the lifting and bending involved with that caused me to suffer for a few days in a row. I told myself I had a misaligned pelvis or perhaps a pinched nerve. Anyway, enough was enough so I finally took myself to see a doctor. He sent me for some X-rays and while I was getting the X-rays done I realised that I had a big problem. The radiographer had difficulty getting decent scans. She said I was very ‘bent’. What does that mean?

I took my xrays back to the doctor and we looked at them together. I nearly fell over when he put them up on the screen.

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My spine was all twisted. “You have scoliosis,” he said. Ok let me just pick my jaw off the floor.

My doctor sent me to see a neurosurgeon and my neurosurgeon sent me for a bone scan and an MRI. It turns out I have moderate scoliosis along with two slipped vertebrae, one in my neck and one in my lower back. I also have bulging discs everywhere, narrowing of disc spaces and arthritis.

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Ok so what do I do now doc? My neorosurgeon said that spinal fusion surgery will more than likely be needed but let’s try and put it off for as long as we can. So, I am now taking anti inflammatory medication for my arthritis, I have weekly physiotherapy visits and I have pain medication for when I can’t deal with the pain anymore.

Dealing with chronic pain is exhausting. I can’t sit for very long, I can’t stand for very long and I can’t walk very far. I have to alternate between the three….. sit, stand, walk all day long to try and keep the pain to a minimum. I have burning pain, sharp pain, muscle spasms and my entire back aches most of the time like I have the flu. I have pain in my buttocks and in my legs. I have also lost 40% of the movement in my left arm and have constant shoulder pain and a horrible burning pain along my left collarbone. I stand crooked. My right hip juts out and my left arm hangs lower than my right arm.

I’ll be honest, there are times when I have had dark thoughts. How on earth am I going to spend the rest of my life like this? I cry myself to sleep sometimes or I’ll go and have a little weep in the bathroom by myself. But here is the thing….whenever I have these dark thoughts I remind myself that it could be much worse and there are so many other people dealing with far worse things than this. The other thing that helps me more than anything is my painting. I can paint! I get to do what I love to do every day of my life. Yes it’s hard and I have to keep leaving my painting table every 20 minutes or so but I can paint! It takes my mind off myself and my pain, and it gets me out of bed everyday.

Shortly after I found out I had scoliosis I painted this painting of some poppies that I had bought. I gave it the title ‘Twisted Sisters’ because it reminded me of my bent spine. Poppies are twisted but they are beautiful. They are bent but they are not broken.

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Acrylic apathy, thunder storms and boredom.

The sky is rumbling overhead as I write this. How I love a good storm. I’m uploading some of my paintings onto a file sharing site so that I can send them to my art agent in the US. It is taking forever because they want TIFF files.  My last post was about my love for watercolour so, while I wait patiently for my files to upload, I though I’d write this post about my love of acrylic paint…..cough.

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Acrylic paint….. it’s not my favourite medium as you know, but I do have some success with it. I used it for over 14 years and I taught others to paint with it. It requires a lot of layering and boy does it try my patience. Like watercolour, it has the benefit of drying quickly but that decreases the amount of time you have to blend the paint. I tend to work from dark to light when I use it which is the opposite of how I paint with watercolour. I lay down my darkest values first and then I gradually add lighter highlights over the top. Retarder medium can help to slow down the drying time. I use it sometimes but not often. I tend to paint quickly with acrylic paint as I do with watercolour. The beauty of using it instead of watercolour is that you can cover your mistakes and there are plenty of those!

Back in 2006 I was happy with two of my acrylic flower paintings. So happy with them in fact that I kept both of them and didn’t sell them. They both hang on the walls in my home. One is on that side of the house and the other is on that side of the house. I’m pointing to the east and west walls. They’ve been hanging there for almost ten years. I probably should take them off the wall and check the back of them for silverfish damage.

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I used to subscribe to Australian Artist magazine years ago. I had a moment of weakness and I entered both paintings in a monthly challenge that the magazine has. I didn’t win a prize but I did get an honorable mention the following month when they published the paintings in the magazine. It’s nice to have a little recognition now and then.

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I have painted with acrylic paint recently because I have more confidence panting with it and some of the subjects I have chosen would have been a little tricky for me in watercolour.

A little Rotty in acrylic paint.
A little Rotty in acrylic paint.

I did this little guy in acrylic paint because I wanted to get that nice sheen on his fur. I wouldn’t know where to start with watercolour paint. The reference photo I used for this little sweetie was taken by D Major from Paint my Photo website. PMP is a great site if you are looking for copyright free reference photos to use.

My little KIngfisher in acrylic paint.
My little Kingfisher in acrylic paint.

The Kingfisher above was painted using one of my own reference photos. I chose acrylic paint for it because I wanted to add the detail of those fine feathers on his back.

Hummer
Hummer

Again I was after feather detail with this little hummingbird. Many thanks to my photographer friend who lives in Florida, Larry Baker, for the reference photo I used for this painting.

Oh that was a loud crack! Hooley Dooley, here it comes! I better go and shut the windows and drag a few pot plants into the rain.

The seduction of watercolour.

I’m supposed to be painting but I thought I’d tell you how watercolour has captivated me.

My life long love affair with drawing and painting has had so many twists and turns. I embrace my love for a while but then I push it away. It always calls me back though.

I started painting in my early thirties after I completed a sign writing course. I worked as a sign writer for a while but soon got tired of working in the sun and balancing on planks of wood between two ladders as traffic went whizzing past me. It was about the time when traditional sign writing was dying and computer cut vinyl lettering was the ‘new’ thing.

That was when I developed an interest in folk art and I started taking a few classes at an art studio close to home. A few months later I was teaching at that art studio. I taught for many years, I wrote an art instruction book called ‘Painted Pastures’ and I travelled to different places to teach workshops.

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This is an acrylic painting ‘Sunny Days’. I did it back in the early naughties. It hangs on my living room wall because I didn’t seem to want to part with it. My baby at the time (who is now 19) bought some sunflower seeds home from kindergarten. We planted them and up came these enormous sunflowers the size of dinner plates!

After 14 years, I grew tired of painting with acrylic paint and my interest began to wane. It was something about the excessive layers of paint that I had to apply to achieve the look I wanted. Anyway, one day, while I was ironing (……gee I used to iron) I heard on the radio that the university near where I lived was taking enrolments for the Bachelor of Education course that was starting the following year.  Did I tell you I have always wanted to be a school teacher?  I decided in Year 4 after my teacher Mrs Whitfield had finished reading ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ aloud to the class that teaching was my future. So the next day I took myself off to university to enrol.

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Four years later I was a fully qualified school teacher. I approached a few schools, gave them my details and told them I was available for relief work. I waited patiently for the phone to ring. Eventually it did ring but there were many days when it didn’t. On the days it didn’t ring, to keep myself occupied, I got out my dusty, old watercolour paints and I had a play (I had tried painting with watercolour years earlier and I discovered that it was way too difficult for me.) Really, I was painting to stop myself from thinking what a waste of time the previous four years of my life had been.

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I painted little 5″ by 7″ paintings of birds and I struggled. I tore a few paintings up in disgust and stomped my feet a few times in anger but I kept with it. I didn’t want it to beat me again.

This little guy below was one of the first paintings I was happy with. I look at it now and I see how far I’ve come.

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I kept painting and I produced more and more. Eventually I had these funny little paintings everywhere.

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To show my progression over the past few years…..here is my first Kookaburra – painted in 2011.

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Here is my second Kookaburra- painted in 2012.

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and here is my third Kookaburra – painted 2014.

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All my life I have jumped from one thing to another. I was never really fully satisfied doing what I was doing at the time. But now, after discovering watercolour, my only wish is that I had more time to paint. I wish I didn’t have to waste time sleeping. Watercolour gets me out of bed everyday.  It has cast a spell on me and it’s magic qualities never fail to excite me. Watercolour is a difficult medium to use and I have been humbled by it over and over. It has a life of it’s own and it doesn’t mind showing you that you are not always in control. As you can see, my journey has just begun and I have a long way to go. Art has and always will be my greatest passion.

Just in case this post is still floating around in cyberspace long after I am gone and my future grandchildren happen to find it, I give them this advice: Find your passion and chase it with all that you have. If you do, you will never work a day in your life.

Parker’s, pomegranates and paints.

I’ve been living in Sydney temporarily for the past 18 months or so and one of the perks of living in the city is having access to art supply shops. Where my home is on the Mid North Coast of NSW, art supply shops are pretty scarce. Any supplies I need I have to order online. Generally, I hate shopping but a visit to a good art supply shop is pure pleasure to me.

Recently I found Parker’s Fine Art Supplies down at The Rocks in the city and it is packed to the rafters full of every single thing an artist could possibly dream of.

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It was time to replenish my paper supply today so Dom and I caught the train into the city. He had his computer tucked under his arm because he needed to have his hard drive replaced. While he was at the Apple shop I waited for him down at The Rocks. I sat in the sun for a while opposite the Opera House and ‘people watched’. When the sun disappeared behind the clouds it got a bit chilly so I wandered into the Museum of Contemporary Art.

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I have to admit, some contemporary art is a little puzzling to me. Some of it I get……

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and some of it I don’t.

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While I was puzzling over this one….Dom finally found me and we moseyed on up to Parkers.

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Uh oh…….look out, in she goes.

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Paper!
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Panels!
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There’s a little bit of heaven right there.
Even Dom enjoys himself here.
Even Dom enjoys himself here.

I found this cool stuff. It’s Art Graf Tailor’s Chalk. You can draw with it when it is dry or you can use a wet brush to apply the pigment. I bought this cool little earthy coloured set.

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Finito!
Finito!

This is today’s efforts…… I’m a couple of hundred dollars poorer but my eagerness to paint has well and truly been restored.

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When I’d finished I took Dom to Pablo and Rusty’s for lunch. A trendy inner city café with groovy food like whole roasted mushrooms, lemon ricotta, sorrel, pine nuts and poached eggs on sour dough. Sure beats an avocado and cheese sandwich at home. I had grilled asparagus, burghul wheat, Persian fetta, cucumber, Manzanilla olives and pomegranate tarator washed down with a steamy hot pot of green tea. Dom had some little fried egg number with his flat white. Those little pops of pomegranate left me wanting more. We will definitely return.

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All in all, a very good day!

Ruffled Woodies, Swiss balls and Dr Phil

My day begins around 6.45am. Dom sets his ipad to wake him at 7.00 and I usually wake just before it goes off. He puts his ipad on snooze and spends the next hour turning it off every 9 minutes. While he is snoozing I’m at my computer checking emails, answering questions and scrolling down my Facebook feed to see if anything interesting happened while I slept.

I have a healthy breakfast because I figure I’ll be slipping a few naughty things in there through the day so I better start out well. Then I’m eager to get at my paints.

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I found a cute little woodpecker on Wildlife Reference Photos and I liked how his little feathers were all ruffled. I Googled ‘Great spotted woodpecker’ and found out they live in the UK. Now most of my customers come from the US followed very closely by my Aussie counterparts. My UK customers however, are a little sparse. No doubt it has something to do with the fact that I haven’t painted many UK birds so the other day I decided it was time to add a few more. I thought a little ruffled woody would be a perfect addition.

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I set all my paints up and off I go. After about an hour of sitting it’s time for me to get up and have a stretch. My back gets really sore when I sit for too long because of scoliosis related problems (that’s a story for another day) so I get up and drape myself over my Swiss ball for a little while. It helps.

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Back into it for another hour or so, more stretching and so on.

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At 12.00 every day it’s time for lunch and my date with Dr Phil. I started watching him in 2004 after my dad passed away and he helped me with my grief. We have been dating ever since.

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I am nearly finished now. I walk away from it for a little while and go and do some stuff on my computer and then I come back to it to see if it needs some adjustments.

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Nope I think I’m pretty happy with it. I don’t want to do fiddle with it anymore in case I ruin it.

I take it off the board, scan it, crop it and whiten the background in Photoshop. It’s ready to meet the world now.

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Around 3.00 in the afternoon the sun hits my apartment. It’s time for a cup of tea, a piece of choccie and a quick sunbake. The sunbake is doctor’s orders. My neurosurgeon wants me to increase my vitamin D levels so she said the best way is to get a little sun every day. I’m a redhead with fair skin and for the past 25 years or so I’ve been avoiding the sun in the hope that I won’t end up looking like an old prune. I won’t mention that I used to slather my legs with baby oil at highschool and sit in the sun at lunch time trying to get them nice and brown. The stupidity of youth!

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Now all I need to do is think of a title for this little fellow.

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